Passers get stats, QBs get results
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 06, 2006
There's a difference between a great passer and a great quarterback. We've seen this difference time and again throughout football history. But often football fans and "pundits" confuse the two.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts normally cut through gridiron confusion like a Wusthof carving knife through our blue-ribbon brisket. But even we, the emotionless arbiters of all things pigskin, are guilty at times of confusing great passers with great quarterbacks, routinely measuring quarterbacks only by their passing statistics. These numbers make for handy-dandy and easy-to-digest comparisons. Better quarterbacks often put up better passing stats. But there is more to the position than tossing the ball all over the field.
Here's the difference: A great passer is a guy who puts up great passing numbers. Winning is merely coincidental.
A great quarterback is a guy who gets his teammates to believe in him, who helps make the entire team better and who consistently puts his club in a position to win. Posting great passing stats is merely coincidental.
A great quarterback is, in other words, a great leader.
Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback. Try to argue otherwise. He's 27-4 (.871) as a starter in the NFL – the best winning percentage among active quarterbacks – after taking over a team that was 7-11 in its previous 18 games and going nowhere fast. And, at 23, he is the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl, following Sunday's 21-10 win over Seattle.
Two of his four losses came to then-defending champion New England. Roethlisberger's other two losses came against playoff-bound teams earlier this season (Indy and Cincy) in his first two weeks back on the field after knee surgery. The Colts were certainly no pushover. They were 10 games into a 13-game win streak.
Otherwise, Roethlisberger, who was a junior at mid-major Miami of Ohio just two years ago, has never lost an NFL game.
Yes, Pittsburgh has had a pretty good defense over the past two seasons. Yes, Pittsburgh has run the ball more than any team in football over the past two seasons, coddling Roethlisberger like no other QB in football (he has attempted more than 30 passes just once in his 31-game career and has averaged 24.5 attempts in his six playoff appearances). But there have been a lot of teams with great defenses and great ground games in NFL history.
Few of these teams have won 87.1 percent of their games over a two-year period. (Pittsburgh is 31-7 overall for the past two seasons and just the 10th team in NFL history to win 31 games over a two-year period.)
Pittsburgh's fortunes changed when Roethlisberger took the keys to the offense in Week Three of 2004, much the way New England's fortunes changed when Tom Brady took over the team in Week Three of the 2001 season.
So Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, a player who wins even when he can't pass the ball well. Super Bowl XL was a perfect case study. Roethlisberger posted a 22.6 passer rating, the lowest by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. That number clearly puts him in the Gimp category in our bloodbath of data, which rated all the great and not-so-great quarterbacks in Super Bowl history.
Among Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, nobody has come close to putting up such abysmal passing statistics.
Still, Roethlisberger has shown flashes of brilliance passing the ball during his two years in the league. His performances in Pittsburgh's three playoff wins this year were nothing less than impressive. He entered the Super Bowl with a 128.4 passer rating in those three games. But, as evidenced by the poor passing performance against Seattle, he has yet to establish himself as an elite passer.
However, his performance as a quarterback was more impressive. Here are some of Roethlisberger's contributions to victory you won't see by looking at his otherwise abysmal 22.6 passer rating:
- He ran the ball five times for 27 yards.
- Three of those five carries went for first downs, including one that set up Antwaan Randle El's TD pass to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward and another that gave Pittsburgh a key first down as they attempted to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
- A fourth carry went for a 1-yard TD and gave Pittsburgh a 7-3 second-quarter lead that it would not relinquish.
- Roethlisberger completed just nine passes, but seven went for first downs.
- Among his conversions was a 37-yard pass to Hines Ward on 3rd-and-28 that set up his own 1-yard TD run.
- He was creative when necessary, tossing a shovel pass to Ward on a 3rd-and-6 play in the second quarter that went for 12 yards and a first down.
- His TD run was his fourth conversion via pass or run on that game-changing drive alone.
- Pittsburgh took over the ball on its own 20 with 6:15 to play in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger converted a pair of third downs – once via a run and once via the pass – as Pittsburgh held onto the ball for 4 minutes, 24 seconds at a point when the game was still in doubt.
- 11 of Roethlisberger's 14 completions or rush attempts went for first downs.
- The stat books show that Roethlisberger rushed seven times for 25 yards. But those numbers are misleading. Two of those carries were kneel-downs that went for -1 yard each – one at the end of the first half with Pittsburgh sporting a lead and another, the most important of all, with Pittsburgh sporting a lead at the end of the game.
Roethlisberger proved in Super Bowl XL that he's a not-ready-for-prime-time passer. But when it comes to quarterbacking, there are few in the NFL right now who can claim to be better.
Great passers get nifty stat lines. Great quarterbacks get results.
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